In Depth

Bilderberg 2017: What we know about the secret conference

Are the global elite gathering to discuss key issues – or plot world domination?

The annual Bilderberg meeting has just begun, a yearly merry-go-round of power brokers that's shrouded in secrecy.

As the global glitterati chatter in Chantilly, Virginia – around 30 miles from the White House – here's a round-up of what we know about a "secret" society that has spawned countless conspiracy theories:

What is the Bilderberg conference?

Depending on who you ask, it's an "an annual forum for informal discussions designed to foster dialogue between Europe and North America" (from Bilderberg's website) or a super-secretive forum for the global elite to plot world domination. Since 1954 the group, which is named after the Netherlands hotel where it first met, has gathered each year to discuss the major issues of the day.

What are the issues this year?

Top of the agenda is "The Trump Administration: A progress report". As The Guardian asks, "Is the president going to be put in detention for tweeting in class? Held back a year? Or told to empty his locker and leave? If ever there's a place where a president could hear the words "you're fired", it's Bilderberg." There are also discussions taking place on "the direction of the EU", globalisation, the "war on information", Russia and populism.

Who goes to it?

Pretty much any Western bigwig you can think of. Peter Thiel of Paypal and Google's Eric Schmidt lead the tech roster, while the king of Holland, IMF's head Christine Lagarde and China's ambassador to the US, Cui Tiankai, are also going. In finance, key figures from Carlyle, KKR, and Deutsche Bank will be attending.

Despite a ban on reporters, media heads will also be there. The Guardian says we shouldn't expect much coverage from CNN, whose president will be attending, as will former chancellor George Osborne, a longtime attendee and now editor of the London Evening Standard. Media watchdog CEO Sharon White is also going. The invitation-only guest list is normally 120-150 people. 

Why is it so secret?

Bilderberg says that its rules allow world leaders to discuss freely and without fear of negative coverage. Still, the meeting's secrecy has long been a "lightning rod for conspiracy theorists", the BBC says. Bilderberg has been accused of everything from plotting to impose a one-world government to deliberately causing the 1973 oil price shock to prop up the dollar and fill Wall Street's pockets.

The International Business Times cites "notorious conspiracy peddlers" InfoWars, who this time round splashed on what they called an 'exclusive' that Bilderberg was all about overthrowing Trump, who is of course named as top of the agenda. "Others even say it's about forcing the world to adopt sharia law," the news site reports. 

Has anything ever come out of it?

Hard to say, given the secrecy surrounding the discussions. Still, according to journalist Jon Ronson, during the Falklands War David Owen gave a speech demanding sanctions on Argentina. Those gathered were apparently convinced enough to change their minds on the issue and impose them, the Daily Telegraph says. Back in the mid-1980s Helmut Kohl, the West German chancellor, told attendees that Germany would be unified, something publicly unutterable at the time.

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